At a young age, Goh Hood Keng was drawn to Christianity of his own accord. His parents were devout Buddhist Peranakans, who enrolled him at the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) when he was six years old, yet enforced a daily discipline of worshipping idols at the family altar.
Curious about Methodism, he attended chapel, read the Bible and attended church on Sundays. Although his parents did not object, they could not accept Christianity because they thought it was a religion for orang putihs or “white people”. He was baptised in 1905 without his parents’ consent, and when his father came to know, he flew into a rage, and threatened to disown Hood Keng and shoot him with a hunting rifle.
He completed his studies at ACS while still living at home as a Christian, having given up his gambling habit and remaining a filial son. This led his mother to realise that Christianity had made him a better boy. Eventually, his parents and three of his four siblings accepted Christ.
After graduation, he joined the teaching staff of ACS, and preached as a layman on weekends. His methodical and effective teaching made ACS one of the top schools, and attracted widespread admiration, while his exemplary moral life drew students to his Sunday School class at the Middle Road Church. He was subsequently promoted to head ACS’ new branch, the Serangoon English School (which was later absorbed into a new school by the Government in 1926). Many students were inspired by his teaching and preaching, and some became leaders of modern Singapore.
In 1912, Hood Keng was appointed assistant to the Rev F.H. Sullivan, Pastor-in-Charge of the Middle Road Church. He undertook a Methodist Annual Conference course of study, and was formally ordained a Local Elder in 1919 and appointed pastor of the church.
In 1925 he developed leprosy and sought specialist treatment in Calcutta. There he conducted Sunday worship services in the hospital and taught Bible study at the Thoburn Church. Against all odds, he was cured of his leprosy and returned home to Singapore in 1927.
On his return, the Rev Goh joined the Malaya Annual Conference as a full-time minister at half of his former income. He was the first local ordained minister of the Gospel and served the Straits Chinese Methodist Church (now Kampong Kapor Methodist Church) for nearly 40 years until he retired in 1952.
The church membership grew rapidly and the Rev Goh accepted invitations to evangelise around the region. His 1933 Penang Tour drew large crowds, preaching daily and twice on Sundays. At one of his services in Batavia (Jakarta), 23 people accepted Christ.
During the 1910s, the Rev Goh edited the Straits Chinese Literary Society’s Recorderand was Secretary of the Singapore Social Purity Union. He held public appointments as a Justice of the Peace (1937) and Advisor to the Juvenile Court (1946).
After his retirement in 1952, he was appointed District Evangelist by the Bishop. The late Bishop Emeritus T. R. Doraisamy had been his pupil, and wrote in the book he edited, Heralds of the Lord: “Goh Hood Keng was a legend before his time and his message had the hallmark of the eternal. His motto was ‘ I have one dominating passion to preach Christ and Him crucified. I ask for no greater work. I covet no greater honour.’
”Not long after broadcasting a sermon in Wesley Methodist Church on New Year’ s Day, 1961, the Rev Goh became ill and died. 500 mourners attended his burial, including many he had baptised and married. Goh Hood Keng House in ACS is named after him.
Photo courtesy of ACS Echo
Dr Tong Hoo Ing –contributes to Methodist Message as a volunteer writer. A retired neurologist, he worships at Wesley Methodist Church, and volunteers with medical mission teams to third-world countries.